Why Trump Can Safely Ignore Europe

Its Leaders Readily Condemn But Never Act

French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and U.S. President Donald Trump at the G20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany, July 7, 2017. John MacDougall / Reuters

Europe has reacted swiftly and with great fury to U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision last week to pull out of the Iranian nuclear deal. The problem is not simply that the Trump administration has undermined one of the signature achievements of European foreign policy but that his inherent volatility, his unpredictability, and most of all his lack of commitment to the transatlantic alliance mean that any act of U.S. disruption is now possible. Righteous indignation is the language of the day, and predictions about the death of the transatlantic alliance abound.

But laments and indignation do not add up to strategy. The real question is not whether Europeans are pissed off but whether they will do anything in response to Trump’s actions. The answer is most likely no.


The U.S. withdrawal from the Iranian deal certainly feels like a critical moment in transatlantic relations. For Europeans, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as the agreement's formally known, marked a rare instance in which a coordinated effort by the Europeans decisively influenced Washington’s decision on a critical international security issue. Trump’s withdrawal from the deal is therefore not merely a threat to regional stability and nonproliferation but also a repudiation of the notion that Europe can influence the United States on difficult security issues.

Europe has unified around its condemnation of Trump’s decision. France, Germany, and the United Kingdom issued a joint statement expressing their “regret and concern” and reaffirmed their intention to continue honoring the deal. The EU itself quickly followed suit in expressing its disappointment, and so far no single European country has said that it supports the U.S. decision.

The reaction in the media has been even more dramatic. The latest issue of the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel featured a cartoonish image of a left hand flipping the bird with Trump’s likeness etched on the middle finger. A related article in the issue

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